Salt lake City, Utah (Good Things Utah) — February is National Heart Month, and experts from the Intermountain Health heart and vascular program are teaming up with Good Things Utah to educate women about their heart health.

Each Monday in February, Good Things Utah and Intermountain Health are highlighting woman’s heart health issues.

While you may think that heart disease is a man’s problem, it is the number one killer of women. Even breast cancer claims fewer lives. That’s why it’s recommended that women need to take action to keep their hearts healthy – and lower their risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease in women may be overlooked or missed.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. A recent study shows more women are more concerned about their risk of breast cancer than heart disease, and awareness of heart disease has gone down. Heart disease in women can be overlooked or missed, and as a result, it can be undertreated.

“More than 40% of reproductive age people who could become pregnant have at least one chronic medical condition or obstetric risk factor,” said Jennifer Merriman, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine physician with Intermountain Health who specializes in high-risk pregnancyAnd some women may not know they have symptoms or risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes that make them more at risk for heart disease before they get pregnant, during pregnancy, or after childbirth.”

Some women may not recognize their symptoms until it is serious, or they may know they have symptoms or health conditions, but haven’t talked to a doctor about them or aren’t being treated for them before becoming pregnant.

Dr. Merriman says these conditions and other factors can make them more at risk for developing a heart condition or complications during pregnancy.

It’s important to identify risk factors for heart disease and get those risks treated before pregnancy or very early in pregnancy.

“If a woman is thinking about getting pregnant and is older or has health conditions, it’s important to talk to a health provider before getting pregnant. If a woman is already pregnant, it’s important to see a health provider very early in the pregnancy, to get those risks identified, treated or monitored, as they could affect mom or baby,” said Dr. Merriman.

If heart conditions go unrecognized or untreated, women can be at risk for heart attack or death. Because women’s heart disease symptoms are different than men’s symptoms, their conditions may be under-recognized by women themselves and by health professionals.

There may be biases in healthcare, and also inequities in care, that contribute to the under-recognition and undertreatment of heart conditions in women. There are health disparities and many social barriers that people face that prevent them from seeking care, like financial worries, lack of social support, poor understanding of health-related issues, or they are too busy with life.

Known risk factors for heart disease for both women and men:

Conditions to Identify and ControlLifestyle Choices
High blood pressure
High cholesterol
Eat a healthy diet
Don’t smoke or vape
Be active
Get ~ 8 hours of sleep at night

How women’s symptoms of heart disease differ from men’s symptoms

Many times, the symptoms of a heart attack in women are similar to men – crushing chest pain. But sometimes symptoms may be vague, such as shortness of breath, nausea, or fatigue. As a result, women and care teams may miss heart disease and attribute symptoms to ‘anxiety’ or other conditions. Sometimes other symptoms may overshadow a woman’s complaint of chest pain.

In the United States, there are high rates of maternal mortality, meaning death around the time of childbirth. This is due to older age of mothers, having more health conditions that increase their risk of heart disease, and more complex heart conditions.

For women with a heart condition or other high-risk health conditions who are considering pregnancy, the maternal-fetal medicine department at Intermountain Medical Center has a Pregnancy Preparation, Prevention and Risk Evaluation (PrePPARE) Clinic which offers pre-pregnancy risk assessments and evaluations. Call (801) 507-7400 for more information.

For more information about women and heart disease visit the Intermountain Health website.

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